Q. Dear Terry, “My doctor ordered some hormone testing, including cortisol. My cortisol levels were low when they should be high and high when they should be low. I’ve been stressed for many years and don’t really know what to do. Are there any natural options for cortisol?”– Elisa R., Austin, TX
A. Dear Elisa, Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that boosts our alertness and awareness. Like many processes in the body, there are set rhythms that cortisol should follow. Activated at the right times and at the right levels, cortisol helps us wake up with energy, drive carefully in traffic, or use caution when hiking a new trail. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles have created so many extra stressors that it’s hard for our cortisol levels to be balanced throughout the day. Luckily, there are nutrients that can help keep cortisol at the right level for optimal health and energy.
B vitamin supplementation can help the adrenal glands regulate the cortisol awakening response (CAR). The initial release of cortisol in the morning, a boost of about 50 to 70 percent, typically happens in the first 30 minutes after waking up. However, when extra demand is placed on the adrenal glands, cortisol rhythms become dysregulated and may peak at other times during the day or night – leading to sleep disorders, low energy, and increased vulnerability to other illnesses. The three B vitamins most responsible for keeping cortisol release on track are B6, B12, and folate. I prefer these B vitamins in their bioactive form, meaning no conversion by the liver is necessary.
Another vitamin that is deeply tied to the adrenal glands and cortisol is vitamin C. Usually praised for its immune supporting activities, vitamin C also floods the bloodstream when the adrenal glands are stimulated to help protect us from inflammation and potential injury. One scientific study found that in laboratory created stress, the concentration of vitamin C in blood heading back to the heart was 70 percent higher than the blood being pumped out to the body by the heart. Circulating vitamin C helps keep cortisol levels – and stress – in check, so it’s important to replenish your vitamin C every day.
Along with cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the most important hormones released by the adrenal glands in times of stress. Cortisol is associated with the short-term responses to stress, while DHEA is involved with long-term responses. Maintaining a healthy DHEA to cortisol ratio is crucial, some experts think a ratio of at least 5:1 is healthy. With prolonged stress, cortisol increases and the ratio can drop significantly. DHEA supplementation is also necessary due to the aging process, which some experts say drops up to four percent every year in men after the age of around 30. A four-week clinical study with DHEA supplementation resulted in lower cortisol levels throughout the entire 24-hour cycle. For anyone feeling tired, run-down, and overwhelmed, DHEA supplementation may be what is needed.
I would take 200 mg of vitamin C (as ascorbic acid), 12.5 mg of vitamin B1 (as thiamin HCl), 12.5 mg of vitamin B2 (as riboflavin), 35 mg of niacin (as niacinamide and niacin), 15 mg of vitamin B6 (as pyridoxal-5-phosphate), 400 mcg of folate (as methyltetrahydrofolic acid), 500 mcg of vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin), 75 mcg of biotin, 125 mg of pantothenic acid (as d-calcium pantothenate), and 15 mg of DHEA for people over 18 years old. These ingredients can be taken once or twice daily for women and one to three times daily for men.
Terry . . . Naturally
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